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Celestial Shore, Empire's Psychic Readings, Friday, June 13th, 2014, Reviewed

Celestial Shore

Celestial Shore

Linking eyes with the Celestial ambassadors to his right and left, Max settles into position to produce the set of stick clicks that will demonstrate the tempo and countdown to liftoff. With the sudden swooping entrance of the band’s string section, the song is unmistakably launched into astral territory, a near instant trip in the hands’ of the band’s virtuosity. With each fill, Max leans forward to excavate oppressive tom-tom tones and reach for a receptive angle at which to swipe his flattened, oversize ride cymbal, sealing the void his speed ripped open in space with the stamp of a bass drum stomp, lifting him from the Martian throne, and propelling his shoulders forward before resuming the less conspicuous role of keeping the beat. Sam’s shoulder’s curl inwards to coax a riveting wail from his guitar, his left hand strangling the neck in to produce a stream of tone-rich chords. Greg stands as though petrified, his left hand trembling to produce a bass vibrato. When all of the venue’s occupants have been drawn towards the cramped stage substitute, the music comes to a jarring stop. Sam leans into the mic, tottering on one foot, and opens his mouth to sing mysteriously along to three short guitar syllables.

In spite of my hypnosis, I was struck by a set of observations about the room around me that I could not help but notice with the unusually bright lighting of the space. To the left of the stage a small orange set of lights were attached to the wall, of a variety could be easily imagined beside the mirror of a teenage girl’s dream bedroom. On the other side of the stage stood a naked lamp, the shade removed perhaps to match the nude bliss of the musicians. Intriguingly stark murals decorated the room’s white brick walls, resembling crop circles in their symmetry, though formed of thick black lines rather than crushed grains. On the back wall behind the stage, a tree had been painted, with branches growing into blunt crosses at their extremities, resembling the limbs of an omnipotent Hindu being that had been amputated to appease the west. Rather than splitting into roots to mirror the symbolic branches above, the base of the tree completed one fat, roller coaster loop before tapering to a serpentine close towards the edge of the stage. On the next wall, a schematic featuring the phases of the lunar cycle, in bold lines as though one of Keith Haring’s graffiti gods had been dismembered and rearranged with its head at the center in place of a full moon. Unfortunately, there were no “psychic readings” to be had; in the entire room (which offered a Sega and a milk crate full of games at the back, sure to be caked in college kid drool of ancient date) no tarot cards could be found – in the room, the only similar objects available were the tickets to the event, playing cards with innocuously drawn pictograms of cartoons pertaining to the theme plastered on the back of the cards: SEX AT 40!
Before the show, the band gathered in the doorway of Psychic Readings. Max lounged sideways in an arm chair, a surprising sight considering his postural probity at the drum set; his feet hug from the arm of the chair into the doorway, an otiose airborne stint before being bound to the hi-hat and kick pedals. While talking to Sam before the show, he raised an essential point about defining the modern listener experience. Expressing rebellion against the musical world’s trend towards hyperspecificity, he argued that new artists are confined to certain niches if they hope to receive support — niches which have often been exploited to their full extent. Rather than trying to reinvent within these stale guidelines, Celestial Shore opts to shatter expectations and build off of beats from the unbeaten path, the elusive sonic equivalent of Area 51, casting eerie light from above upon undiscovered sections of our palate. Along with this explanation came a complaint that critics of the band have often classified them as math rock, to try and sort them into the tolerable normality system. Sam kindly yet defiantly offered a challenge, “Come to our live show, and then make this judgement.”
About halfway through their set, Sam leaned into the mic to issue a disclaimer. “This song is a minute and a half long.” This description did not do justice to the 90 second blitz of blast beats and the same whiplash chord repeated ad-delightful-nauseam, a simulation of bouncing rapidly along pavement behind a drag racer driven by the band’s bespectacled bassist, who performs the comparatively aggressive vocals on the track. Regrettably, the vocals during this show were often suffocated beneath the other amplified instrumentation. A technical roadblock delayed the start of the set, and the operating sound board had to be swapped out with one from the opening band, No Parents, a party-starting testament to the infectious and inexorable optimism of electronica. Without conspicuous vocals, the band could not claim their signature territory, a realm where 1. ethereal singing splits 2. vivid clouds of chaotic musicianship. As an audience member, the most memorable aspect of the first Celestial Shore show that I attended was the interplay between these two dominant elements. In my experience, vocalists who sing in the falsetto range in indie music seem to carry conceit or conformity in their tone, but this is absent from Sam and Greg’s intertwined melodic performance; instead, their voices seem to be coming from their hearts, and escaping their lips as the only way that they are able to sing. Despite this technical microphone volume complication, and the subsequent detraction from their usually tight sound, Celestial Shore’s commitment still shone through. There was not a dip in the band’s energy throughout the show – Max’s right hand played subdivisions on his knee spastically in sections where that limb was not required, Sam crouched on the ground as though to grow closer to the treasured tone machine in his possession, and Greg’s vocals were particularly affecting and genuine when audible. On the last song Sam stepped into the crowd to share its hip-dislodging chord slew with those on the dance floor, echoing the non-charade of the viewer, and cultivating an honesty that emanated from the stage as a reflection of the itself. Thus, the rich energy in the room was neither reserved for the stage nor the observers: conducted by the band’s transcendence, it circulated throughout the room gaining momentum and arriving back to each audience member that contributed with an impact that was profoundly rewarding. The gentle chanting of the closing song shone through in the after midnight experience that conquered that room: “We evolve”. And by gathering at the Celestial Shore, we found that we evolve as one.
Celestial Shore’s second full length album will arrive on earth this September. Many of the songs from the Psychic Readings set, that will, in turn, appear on the album, may be found here:

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